Do you know how you spend your time, when you work best, and where you can save time with technology?
How do doctors spend their time? Not the way most of them want to be spending it, unfortunately. Studies show that doctors are devoting more hours to paperwork and administrative tasks than to patient care—and that’s a problem that impacts patient satisfaction and can lead to doctor burnout. What’s a busy doctor to do? A combination of better time management and digital tools may be the answer.
How are doctors spending their time?
A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine followed 80 physicians—specifically, first-year internal medicine residents—for 2,000 hours to see how these doctors were spending their time. The findings revealed that only three hours were spent face-to-face with patients. Most of their time (15.9 hours in a 24-hour period) was spent on indirect patient care, half of that time interacting with electronic health records.
Even doctors further along in their careers are spending less time with patients. The 2019 Medscape Physician Compensation Report found that 74 percent of physicians spent over 10 hours per week on paperwork and administrative tasks, up from 2012 when the majority reported just 1-4 hours per week. Medscape also found that nearly a third of doctors (30 percent) spend 17-24 minutes with each patient and 29 percent spend 13-16 minutes with each patient. This does vary somewhat by specialty; 41 percent of ophthalmologists spent 9-12 minutes with each patient.
A new study shows that doctors spend 90 percent of their time away from patients. This can lower patient satisfaction and increase doctor burnout.
“There are many reasons to be concerned about these findings,” said Sanjay Desai, M.D., lead author of the time-tracking study and director of the Osler Medical Training Program at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “One of the biggest is simply the significance of what it means for our current and future physicians. How do we think about our profession if we spend almost 90 percent of our time away from the people that drew us to it?”
Dr. Desai also noted that another concern is doctor burnout. Spending more time with patients has been linked to a lower incidence of burnout, as it is the most rewarding and meaningful part of the job for many doctors.
Be self-aware, efficient, and realistic about your time
So how can doctors allocate more time to patient care? It starts with self-awareness. “We are trained how to be busy, so we don’t stop to ask questions like, ‘Is this the best way?’ and, ‘How do I want to spend my time?’” Craig Gordon, M.D., told Medscape in the article, “12 Smart Time Management Tips for Doctors.”
To improve your time management skills, you need to know what times of day you are at your best and how you like to work. Dr. Gordon realized that for him, waiting for big blocks of uninterrupted time to tackle large projects was a form of procrastination. Instead, he now breaks big projects into more manageable pieces. He’s also found that he can accomplish far more working on those projects for a couple of hours in a coffee shop over the weekend than he can in his office during the week.
Knowing when and how you work best, “batch processing,” and taking breaks are all effective ways to better manage your time and work more efficiently.
Dike Drummond, M.D., founder of TheHappyMD.com and author of Stop Physician Burnout recommends “batch processing.” This means that instead of addressing each task like refill requests and referrals one by one throughout the day, batch them together and do them all at once a couple times a day.
Research tells us that most people perform best when they pay attention to their bodies’ natural rhythms, according to bestselling author Daniel Pink’s When: The Scientific Secrets Of Perfect Timing. For most of us, our day is divided into three stages—a peak, a trough, and a recovery. Generally, the peak is in the morning, when people are better at analytic work—things that require focus, vigilance, and attention. Pink advises saving administrative tasks such as emails and phone calls for the midday trough, and using the recovery period later in the day when you’re in a better mood and less inhibited for more creative tasks.
For more on this topic, see Timing Is Everything? How Scheduling Affects Patient Outcomes.
Breaks and buffers are also essential to efficiently utilizing your time, say experts. Track your time to see how you’re really spending it. Are you constantly running late and keeping people waiting? Back-to-back appointments may not be allowing you enough time for documentation and notes between patients. If you’re traveling between locations, are you giving yourself time for traffic, parking, etc.? Be realistic with your schedule, and leave yourself extra time where necessary, suggests Physicians Practice.
Use technology to streamline where you can
Another way to make more time in your day is to streamline the tasks that take you the most time. Technology makes this easier, and investing a small amount of time to set up these tools can save you a lot of time in the long run. During cataract evaluations, how often do you explain the cataract is a clouding of the lens rather than the cornea? Do your chronic sinusitis patients believe they’re suffering from a cold?
Rendia’s patient education videos can eliminate time spent on these basic topics while overcoming health literacy challenges at the same time. They can be emailed to patients prior to their appointments or viewed in the waiting room, so that you can spend that valuable face time in the exam room addressing specific concerns and answering patients’ informed follow-up questions.
Digital tools like educational videos and simulations do not replace doctor-patient interaction—rather, they streamline and enhance it.
And instead of sketching a diagram or giving verbal explanations to each patient, use a tool like Rendia’s Exam Mode or Outcome Simulator to show patients visually what they can expect. This does not add time to the patient visit—rather, this technology makes the time you’re already spending with patients more effective.